BY ALEX SARDAR Special to Asbarez
WASHINGTON-Under the auspices of President Robert Kocharian–Armenian Americans from all over the metropolitan Washington area–and close vicinities–commemorated the 84th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church Saturday–marking the first time a sitting Armenian President has marked this solemn occasion with a Diasporan community.
The special community commemoration–which was sponsored by the Embassy of the Republic of Armenia–the Eastern Prelacy and the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America–along with Holy Cross and St. Mary’s Armenian Apostolic churches of Washington–attracted more than 500 ecumenical leaders and community members.
The event began with a special wreath laying ceremony at the late United States President Woodrow Wilson’s tomb–which is located on the grounds of Washington’s National Cathedral–adjacent to St. Alban’s Church. President Kocharian–accompanied by a number of American military personnel of Armenian descent–members of his delegation and several community leaders paid his respect at President Wilson’s tomb–remembering the late US leader’s compassion toward the Armenian nation at the turn of the Century.
Also accompanying the President in his delegation were Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian–Armenia’s Ambassador to the United States Rouben Shugarian–various Administration officials as well as Embassy personnel. Homenetmen Scouts led the delegation with the Color Guard.
Immediately after the wreath laying ceremony–the President’s delegation joined the hundreds of attendees inside St. Alban’s Church for the special religious sermon presided over by Eastern Prelate Oshagan Choloyan and Eastern Primate Khajag Barsamian.
The religious services–which were conducted bilingually in English and Armenian–also included ecumenical messages from various religious institutions. Among them were Rev. Dr. Francis H. Wade of St. Alban’s Church–the Very Rev. Father. Leonid Kishkovsky of the Orthodox Church of America–the Rev. Protopresbytor George Alexson of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America–the Rt. Rev. Archimandrite Paul Saliba of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America–the Rev. Thomas Andres of the Episcopal Church–the Rev. Ronald Roberson of the Roman Catholic Church–and community member Sammy Totah representing the Jewish religious community.
After the religious service–Master of Ceremonies–Onnig Dombelegian–Esq.–invited various community members–ecumenical guests and the presiding religious leaders to address the crowd and convey to them the significance of the event.
Also speaking on behalf of the Armenian delegations was Foreign Minister Oskanian–who expressed President Kocharian’s and his sincerest appreciation for the commemorative gathering–noting that this was a unique moment in Armenia’s history.
Oskanian noted the importance of commemorating the Armenian Genocide and made brief remarks on the Kocharian Administration’s vigilant pursuit for recognition of the Armenian Genocide perpetrated by Ottoman Turkey.
One of the more emotional momen’s of the services came as the names of towns and villages where Armenia’s had fallen to Ottoman atrocities were read out loud–reminding those present–that the Genocide is really not an episode of the past–but a continuous and alive issue. Genocide survivors present in the audience were then recognized and honored.
The event concluded with the recital of the Lord’s Prayer by all in attendance–and the exit of President Kocharian and his delegation.
The choirs of Holy Cross and St. Mary’s churches and the An Armenian Choral Group under the direction of Arsen Sayan conducted the religious hymns.